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Saudi Arabia Takes a Step Towards Alcohol Liberalization with Exclusive Diplomatic Store

Alcohol liberalization in Saudi Arabia

In a significant development for Saudi Arabia, the conservative Muslim theocracy has reportedly opened its first-ever alcohol store, as revealed by unofficial sources. Although not officially confirmed by the Saudi government, this move represents a notable departure from the country’s longstanding prohibition of alcohol since 1952. The store, located in the diplomatic quarter, is exclusively accessible to non-Muslim diplomats, with authorization facilitated through an app called Diplo.

Store regulations, outlined in a document seen by CNBC, impose strict conditions. Only authorized visitors are allowed entry, and no guests or individuals under the age of 21 can accompany them. Photography is strictly prohibited, and mobile phones must be stored in secure pouches to prevent usage within the premises. Purchases are subject to a monthly quota per registered individual, aiming to control the flow of alcohol.

The move is seen as a response to Saudi Arabia’s historical issue of alcohol smuggling, primarily involving diplomats selling imported alcohol on the black market. By establishing an official venue, the Saudi government aims to regulate and monitor the distribution of alcohol, thereby addressing the smuggling problem that has persisted for years.

A new era

Speculation has long surrounded the possibility of Saudi Arabia easing its ultraconservative laws, including the ban on alcohol, to attract more international tourists and expatriates. The diplomatic store is viewed as a preliminary step towards potentially allowing alcohol sales to non-Muslims in other venues, such as hotels. A Saudi consultant close to the royal court suggested that this move is a “baby step” towards liberalizing alcohol sales.

Vision 2030, spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is a transformative campaign to reshape Saudi Arabia’s image, diversify its economy away from oil, and attract tourism. The country has undergone substantial social and economic changes in recent years, including lifting bans on activities such as women driving, movie theaters, and concerts. However, simultaneous crackdowns on dissent and imprisonment of political activists underscore the delicate balance between liberalization and maintaining control in the kingdom. CNBC has reached out to Saudi Arabia’s ministries of media and foreign affairs for official comments on this development.

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